Brand Ambassadors. Just what the heck is one anyway?

A brand ambassador is a company's first and last line of defense when it comes to keeping customer loyalty. Sounds like a bold, broad brushstroke statement, doesn't it? Well, consider the following: In her book Friendship Branding, Lois Geller writes about the results of a survey she conducted on branding, and the results are insightful.

Customers surveyed said the most important factors in staying loyal to a particular brand are (1) consistent quality; (2) customer service; and (3) price. Other research shows that approximately 70% of the purchase decision is made for emotional, not economic, reasons.

Clearly, quality and service are key to a brand's relationship with its customers.

Quality and service can be controlled by your staff--your brand ambassadors. People form relationships with people; people who are the human, interactive face of a brand.

People buy brands for the brand experience, and the employees of a company--and the customers' interactions with them--are indeed part of that experience, and a large part of what builds customer loyalty.

Note that I said loyalty, not satisfaction. Satisfied customers change, and frequently for no other reason than to try something new. But loyal customers are much less likely to. And loyal customers mean profits.

A 1996 article in Marketing Review by Jeff Resnick stated that companies that excel at creating and maintaining loyal customers can command prices that are four to seven percent higher than weaker competitors, and that they can generate up to three times more profit.

But again, brand ambassadors are needed to make this happen. If the brand doesn't deliver on the promise, then the loyalty doesn't get created, or worse still, existing loyalty gets eroded.

A brand is in many ways a living, breathing thing. It is more than just visual, or rational, it is emotional and behavioral in practice.

Behavior reinforces the brand, and employees have a great and important role to play here. Emotion and behavior moves a brand promise to a brand reality, and when an employee and a company “live the brand” they then can realize real gains and a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

In order to “live the brand,” employees must truly understand the brand--what it is, why it is, what it promises, how it delivers, why you are better/different than any other brand, why the consumers want it, and what their role is in relation to the brand. They must help meet the brand promise's expectations and create an experience for the customer that reinforces all brand messages.

They must be committed to the brand. As a true brand ambassador, the employee has to have a relationship with the brand that goes beyond customer service. In fact, a MORI (UK) research study revealed that “how staff treated you” was a key strategy to build customer loyalty.

Now, I realize that may sound a bit strange, asking employees to have a relationship with a brand, but it is true. You must make them feel part of the corporate success or failure. You must make them understand how their actions impact the success of the company.

Companies that succeed do this: Wal-Mart and its “associates,” Disney and it's “cast members,” Song (Delta's new low-fare airline) and its “talent.”

They all work hard at making their employees not only walk the walk, but talk the talk. They make them vested in the brand, and feel like part of a team.

Is asking the employee to have a relationship with the brand any different than asking the consumer to have one? And knowing that people still prefer to deal with people, doesn't it make sense to have brand ambassadors who engage customers and foster relationships that lead to loyalty?

But how does this happen, how do employees learn to be brand ambassadors?

By being shown--not told--how to do so by the company leaders. Brand ambassadorship must be demonstrated by the top brass all the way down the ranks in order for success to be realized. Brand ambassador isn't just a role for a few employees, but a role for all employees.

So ask yourself, are your employees aware of the part they have to play in creating a relationship and engendering loyalty with customers? Are they just selling a product, or are they fulfilling the brand promise? Do they employees really know and understand the brand? And are they invested in doing so?

If you answer yes to the above, then you can indeed say you talk the talk and walk the walk….and that will keep your employees and customers from walking away from your brand!

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Kristine Kirby Webster is Principal of The Canterbury Group, a direct-marketing consultancy specializing in branding and relationship marketing. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Direct Marketing at Mercy College in NY. She can be reached at